By Sydney Mazur, UConn Journalism
April 19, 2019
Meet Carlos Virgen, the digital news director at The Day in New London, Connecticut. He is not your traditional journalist. Originally from California, Virgen studied graphic design and worked in a law firm until one day a friend who published a Los Angeles independent alt-weekly hired him as an associate publisher designing advertisements.
He started shooting and editing video while working at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in Washington, and eventually expanded into coding and social media. Half a dozen years later, Virgen moved to the East Coast, bringing his expertise to The Day’s newsroom.
Residents of Southeastern Connecticut are the main audience for The Day, Virgen said. With more and more people using social media to find and consume news, there is a younger demographic of readers to reach. Virgen and his team at The Day realized they needed to shift their audience strategy. Subscribers are the ultimate goal of any news organization. By identifying smaller groups of readers and tailoring specific coverage — such as videos of high school football, basketball and cheerleading competitions — Virgen said The Day has been able to see notable increases in online readership.
Recently, Virgen has been helping The Day experiment with new online audience initiatives. The first is a project called “CuriousCT.” Readers send in the questions they want answered, the audience votes on their favorite, and the newsroom reports that story. “It provides a sense of ownership to the public,” Virgen said, “to remind people that we’re here and listening to them.”
Virgen said as part of CuriousCT, his team tracks monthly subscribers, creates video promotions, and promotes their projects on the Atlantic Broadband network.
Virgen is also one of the principal producers of an award-winning original podcast series called “Case Unsolved.” It tells the stories of “unsolved murders in Connecticut and the family, friends, and law enforcement left without resolution.” The project was a labor-intensive collaboration between Virgen, multi-media director Peter Huoppi, three reporters and managing editors. It is the first narrated podcast The Day has produced.
Together, the team storyboarded the podcast, researched, recorded, listened to drafts, and after many attempts, found the best way to tell a dramatic audio story. The first unsolved case featured in the podcast was from the 1980’s about a woman named Desiree Michaud. Virgen narrated Michaud’s story in three parts, with a bonus conclusion episode. Virgen said the team of journalists dedicated extra time to exploring archives, tracking down photos and immersing themselves in the history of three unsolved cases to understand what happened and explain the change to the local community since the murder took place.
The result of their work is highly engaging. Virgen and his team painted the scene of each crime vividly — listening to the audio story makes you feel like you are there. The podcast starts with describing Michaud and her artistic talents and ambitions for her future, then takes the listener to the scene of the crime, and finally lets us hear the New London community’s reaction to a shocking murder. Virgen said the podcast did not solve Michaud’s murder, but it did help bring back awareness to what had happened in the 1980’s.
During an October 2018 interview with UConn Journalism students, Virgen explained that when creating the podcast, “the thing that has worked the best was to start with an outline, ideally, before you even do the interviews. Do some basic factual reporting to figure out what we already know and what we want to put in and then go from there.”
Multimedia director Peter Huoppi added that with the popularity of crime podcasts such as “Serial” and documentaries like “Making a Murderer,” the audience was always forefront. “True crime listeners are always in the back of our mind, we have to give people something. We can’t just end and then not have people go away with something. Maybe not a resolution but at least a sense of who the person was. I’m trying to make a personal connection between the audience and the reporter,” Huoppi said.
Virgen’s advice to aspiring journalists: “Be willing to grow your skill set.” Virgen said that being constantly curious, data literate, willing to find and critically analyze the content you’re creating, will help you to “never stop learning in whatever you do.”
Virgen said it’s also important to network. Follow and introduce yourself to as many contacts as possible, he said. “The journalism community is open and willing to share knowledge,” said Virgen.